***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. BECAUSE I’M TOO LAZY TO DO A SPOILER-FREE VERSION EVERY TIME I DO A MOVIE REVIEW, YOU SHOULD JUST GO SEE THE MOVIE IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY AND THEN READ MY REVIEW.***
Wow. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a great Pixar movie.
Before this year, in my opinion, the last great Pixar movie was 2010’s Toy Story 3. Since then, we’ve gotten a few Pixar movies that, while good (for the most part), weren’t quite up to scratch:
2011: Cars 2 (widely considered Pixar’s weakest work to date)
2012: Brave (good overall, but definitely not what I would call “great”)
2013: Monsters University (enjoyable and definitely a step up, but again, still not what I would call “great”)
2014: The first year without a Pixar movie since 2005
So it’s been about five years since we last had a truly great Pixar film. When I first heard about Inside Out, I was intrigued by the concept, and had a bit of hope that it might be a return to form for the renowned animation studio. They’d hit a bit of a slump, and I thought that maybe this new film would be their comeback.
When I saw the first trailer for it, I wasn’t so sure anymore. A few months later, though, I watched a second trailer that came out, and it made me more hopeful again. However, it wasn’t the trailers that ended up making me the most hopeful; it was that the film was shown early (in May) at the Sundance Film Festival, and it received rave reviews from the critics and audience members who attended the showing. In fact, up until its release, it had a consistent rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating that not a single critic had yet given it a negative review.
As of today, on Rotten Tomatoes, Inside Out has a total of 223 critic reviews. 219 of them are positive, and only 4 are negative.
So did I think that this film was truly a return to form for Pixar?
Ummmm . . . YES.
Now, if you’re reading this review, you’ve either already seen the movie or aren’t afraid of spoilers, so I’ll spare you the summary of what the movie is about. Instead, I’ll keep this fairly brief and give an overview of my observations, things I liked, etc.
First, I must say that the overall story and concept of the film is utterly brilliant, and while some may argue that it’s not original — certainly the concept of visualizing how people think has happened before in movies and TV — I found it to be entirely fresh and exciting all the same, not to mention exceedingly clever. The little orbs with memories contained in them, the islands of personality, the “train of thought,” the production studio where dreams are made . . . everything is visualized so inventively that I couldn’t help but smile (not to mention laugh at certain jokes, especially when the facts and opinions got mixed up — “that happens all the time!”).
Oh yeah, and there’s totally a “the floor is lava” section of Imagination Land.
Whoever decided to put this in the movie: huge kudos go to you. Or cookies. Whatever you like.
If the world of the movie is fun to watch, though, it’s still got nothing on the characters. Our main focus are the five primary emotions in Riley’s head: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. You might think that because each character personifies one particular emotion that they wouldn’t be very interesting and would play off of stereotypes. On the contrary, each of these characters is done exceptionally well, and each is certainly more than capable of breaking out of the mold you might expect them to stay in.
Take Fear, for example. You might expect him to simply freak out about stuff all the time. Instead, though, his purpose is more three-dimensional. He watches out for possible hazards, and he analyzes situations to find all possible outcomes (but of course he often finds the worst possible ones, which is quite funny).
In this way, each of the main five characters is more than just their name. Each one is made up of multiple smaller traits that are related to whatever emotion they personify. Take Anger — he doesn’t just blow up for no reason. He’s the voice of justice and tries his best to prevent Riley from being treated unfairly. (This observation didn’t really occur to me until I listened to someone else talk about the film, but since I thought it a good one, I thought I should include it here.)
So yes, the characters are definitely not one-note, and they’re all great. Even Disgust, who I didn’t expect to like too much, was an interesting and even funny character. Fear was great. Anger was hysterical.
But the real stars of the show are the polar opposites: Joy and Sadness.
Joy is, well, a joy to watch. As you’d expect, she’s upbeat, spunky, perky, always looking on the bright side. She’s the girl in charge of Riley’s inner life, responsible for the majority of the emotions Riley has experienced ever since she was an infant. I found it quite interesting that the other emotions understood that Joy was in charge and respected her for that. I was expecting all of the characters to constantly be vying for control, which happened occasionally, but not nearly as much as I was expecting, which made the film more interesting to me.
And then there’s Sadness. Joy doesn’t really understand her, for obvious reasons, and even tries to keep her away from the control board. But when both of them are whisked away on their adventure to recover the core memories, something amazing happens. Well, technically, many amazing things happen, but I’m talking specifically about the overall arc. Because in the end, it’s Sadness who turns out to be the real hero of the story.
This is the film’s most prominent message, and I thought it was ingenious and beautiful. Riley has lived most of her life quite happily, thanks to Joy. But when her family moves to a different city and a completely different life, Riley’s inner life begins to crumble. Joy tries to keep sadness from ruining everything, but as it turns out, Sadness shouldn’t be pushed away. Sadness is actually essential to Riley’s well-being.
The scene in which this is made clear is one of the most tear-jerking moments in Pixar history. You know what, scratch that — I’d say it’s THE most tear-jerking moment in Pixar history. I’m serious. I cried more watching this movie than I have watching any other Pixar creation — including Up and Toy Story 3! (#noshame)
I mean, really, though . . . Riley comes home, her parents ask what’s wrong, and Sadness is finally allowed to take the controls. She doesn’t keep them to herself, though. As Riley’s family embraces, Sadness invites Joy to handle the controls alongside her, which creates a new kind of memory. A mixture of sadness and joy. And that, my friends, is one of the best messages Pixar has weaved into its stories. Sadness should not be stifled. It’s vital to our emotional stability. Not only that, but sadness and joy can work together. Sadness can often lead to joy, in fact.
Now that is some darn good writing.
Oh, also . . . Bing Bong.
When this guy first appeared, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like him. He grew on me, though, even though I still thought his design was a bit strange. And he continued to grow on me.
And then . . . that scene happened.
Oh gosh. The feels. I can’t. I just . . .
Pixar! Why must you do this to me?! You just had me crying already when Joy experienced sadness for the first time, and then you drop that on me? You brilliant, wonderful, evil people. I love your movies.
Anyway. I think I should wrap this up.
Inside Out is truly a return to form for Pixar, as many have said, and quite a welcome one at that. Is it perfect? No, there are a few small things I wish were done a little differently. But as it is, the film is outstanding. Wonderful. Creative. Brilliant. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at once. The visuals are bright and colorful. The voice cast is pitch-perfect. The story is well-written and well-executed. The message is beautiful, and the emotions — fittingly enough for a movie about them — are real and powerfully moving.
In short, it’s one of Pixar’s best. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
I hope you enjoyed my review! What did you think of the film? Leave a comment!
See you in two weeks!